As Caterham’s F1 story ends, will Marussia live on?

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Today’s news that the administrators put in charge of Caterham F1 Team are putting the remaining assets at the team up for auction has met a very sad reaction from the sport’s community.

That said, few can say they are surprised. Ever since the team’s final hurrah in Abu Dhabi, lead administrator Finbarr O’Connell has faced a race against time to find buyers for the flailing outfit.

In reality, it was a fight that he was never likely to win. If investors are desperate to find a way to get into F1 for 2015, then Marussia – who entered administration at the same time as Caterham – has always been the more attractive package. It may only have finished ninth in the constructors’ championship, but the prize money this brings does give it more value. It is for this reason that it is now preparing to exit administration as talks with buyers continue in a bid to get it on the grid for 2015.

Ironically, today is also D-Day for Marussia as the remaining nine F1 teams meet in Paris to discuss the future of the sport. They will get a say on whether the Anglo-Russian outfit – set to be called Manor Grand Prix in the event of a comeback – can return to racing. It has been stripped to the bare bones with many of its assets being auctioned off, but there is still a heartbeat. Caterham has flatlined and the DNR has been issued, it seems.

The debate surrounding Marussia does present something of a quagmire for three teams in particular: Lotus, Force India and Sauber. All three have encountered some kind of financial problems in the past eighteen months, and even threatened to boycott the United States Grand Prix back in November over the cost crisis engulfing the sport.

That trio was looking out for the smaller teams. That was their crusade. However, by welcoming Marussia back, they could in fact be spurning the chance for some much-needed income ahead of the new season.

In F1, prize money is awarded to the top ten finishers in the constructors’ championship (hence why Caterham, 11th in 2013 and 2014, is an unattractive investment opportunity). On the basis that Marussia were to return for 2015, there would be ten teams, so each would have 10% of the pie up for grabs – that is a base rate, of course, with further prize money depending on performance in the championship.

However, if Marussia were to not return, then the nine racing teams would theoretically have 11.1% of the pie each. An extra 1.1% may not seem like much, but that does add up to many, many millions.

And they’re much-needed millions for Lotus, Force India and Sauber.

Lotus was on the brink of financial collapse at the end of 2013, but has since been propped up by Pastor Maldonado’s backing from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. With the price of oil plummeting though, it is likely that any extra income at Lotus would be welcomed.

Force India seemed to be okay, given that it has signed a number of new Mexican sponsors ahead of the new season. However, it missed the first test in Jerez and will not be taking the new 2015 car to Barcelona, meaning it will have just four days of running before the new season. We haven’t even seen a picture of the new VJM08 yet, for that matter.

Sauber’s financial status has again been aided by the arrival of Felipe Nasr and his sponsor, Banco do Brasil, but the C34 car was noticeably bare of sponsors during the first test. It too faced financial meltdown at the end of 2013 only to fight on, and again, more money would be welcomed.

So what can these three teams do? Stick to their morals and fight for the little guy, or put their own interests first and help themselves to a bigger slice of pie?

This is the debate that will rage on in Paris today at their meeting. It would be tremendous for the sport to see Marussia/Manor back racing in 2015, even if it is with a 2014-spec car without a hope of points.

Should it also collapse though, we will have seen the new intake of 2010 – HRT, Caterham and Marussia – all disappear within five years. It’s a damning reflection of F1’s internal crises.

F1 is known as the ‘piranha club’ for a reason…

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”